So, all bike reviews usually have flash tables and charts to compare specs because as everyone knows, numbers are what really are the most important thing - not what the beasts are like to ride. Here's my whizz-bang table:
The highlighted stats perhaps indicate where the particular bike might have an advantage over the other but we still haven't fired them up yet...
One thing that both bikes had in common was the tyres. Both bikes are wearing Mitas E-07's and both Neil and I really like these - in the conditions we were riding in they were...wait for the cliche...confidence inspiring. The only difference is that the Tiger wears a 21 inch on the front to the V-Strom's 19. Also, Neil's tyres were at the end of their life (a very respectable 11,000km) where as my rear only has just under 3,000km and the front about half that.
Walking around the Tiger you can see what Neil spends his pocket money on - he has added quite a few nice little farkles to make the bike his. The most noticeable being the crash protection and the Arrows can but there are little things like a "foot" on the side-stand, the fog lights, bigger/wider pegs and the list goes on. There are also a couple of invisible farkles in the form of upgraded springs both front and rear.
The bash plate looks the biz and the V-Strom could use one as the plastic cowl on the bottom is really only for looks and there's a nice vulnerable oil-cooler hanging down below the front exhaust header which I'm sure would not appreciate being clobbered by a rock. The Tiger also probably has slightly more ground clearance (and plenty more suspension travel) although even on the 42nd Traverse I don't think I scraped the cowl on the ground.
Righto, so we've walked around the Tiger and checked out all the sparkly farkles, time to get on and see how she fits. So the seat is slightly higher than the V-Stroms but I think that it is perhaps a little narrower up close to the tank and I didn't really notice the seat height as a problem. Flicking the side-stand up and lifting the bike to vertical was a piece of cake - to me the Tiger felt even lighter than the stats indicate.
Neil had his tank-bag on and it sat up high and forward enough that it didn't get in my way. This also added to the feeling of sitting "in" the bike rather than on - fairly similar to how it feels on the V-Strom.
Neil has also adjusted his handle-bars and controls a fair way forward. He has done this so that the bike feels better when riding standing on the pegs - the larger foot-pegs also help here. The position of the controls didn't really affect anything when riding sitting down either although I had to have a couple of goes at finding the indicator switch. The handle-bar position also feels a lot more "aggressive" and I felt that it made me feel more like grabbing the bike by the scruff of the neck and cutting loose - bummer eh?
Finally it was time to fire up the beast and get rolling. After finding the key (partially hidden by the tank bag) I thumbed the starter and the little triple snarled into life before settling into a smooth purr. By comparison the V-Strom sort of explodes into life before settling into a typical V-Twin rumble. The triple obviously spins up quicker than the twin and both engines definitely have distinctive personalities.
Leaving Hunterville and getting out onto the open road I definitely noticed the lower gearing on the Tiger. Neil has dropped one tooth on the front sprocket and while I have also recently done the same on the V-Strom the smaller Tiger engine is spinning nearly 1,500rpm higher than the Vee at 100km/h. With the Tiger engine being so smooth this isn't really an issue but possibly hurts the fuel economy on long sections of sealed road. Later I was to find that the lower gearing meant that when off the seal there was always a gear for every condition.
Turning off the main road and onto Murimotu Road we started to encounter a few more corners so I had the chance to start to get to learn the Tiger's handling characteristics. To me the bike felt very light and chuckable - just like a big dirt bike. I had thought that the 21 inch front might slow the steering down a little (I've noticed this on other bikes) but I had no issues there.
The roads were a little damp in places so we didn't push too hard but I had absolutely no complaints about the suspension and brakes - everything just worked and I felt quite at home on the unfamiliar mount. I was also getting used to the engine and found that 4-6,000rpm kept things humming along pretty nicely. The clutch and gearbox action were just a couple of other things that I didn't have to think about.
Turning off onto Watershed Road we eventually left the tarmac and got onto some great gravel that was in really nice condition. Things did not slow down a heck of a lot and the Tiger felt really good - it didn't take me long to get used to how it handled in the gravel and I really got into it.
The smooth power delivery was really nice as you came out of the corner. You can just roll on the throttle and the power comes in nice and smoothly and it's easy to tell when you get near that point where the rear wheel wants to break traction and if you really want to, you can then back it off a bit - or not. With the combination of the willing motor and lowered gearing the gearbox gets a fair workout which I actually quite enjoyed - I was riding the bike the whole time.
By comparison if you are a bit ham-fisted on the V-Strom it does not take much at all to get the rear end to break free - the torque from the twin can be a fair bit more violent if you are not careful. Neil had this happen a few times (and think it probably put a grin on his dial) but soon came to grips with the beast and was napping at my heels. The Vee also doesn't require as many gear changes - it will lug at low revs (generally I try to avoid 1st gear on gravel) and between closer corners it is fun to just hold a gear and then back off and enjoy the engine braking (and music) as you slow up for the next turn.
I ended up doing probably close to 100km on the Tiger in gravel and enjoyed every second - except perhaps some mushy stuff where the front end tried to go out from under me a couple of times, the worn front tyre was probably my enemy here. One of the highlights was in the afternoon when we were on fast gravel and having a real ball - both bikes got their legs stretched and we even copped some air over a hump in the road at one stage!
In the end I had to give the Tiger back and clamber aboard the Vee for the ride home. It actually took me a wee while to get used to the Vee again whereas I'd felt at home pretty quickly when I had got on the Tiger. So I guess that sums it up a bit really - the Tiger was an easy bike to come to grips with and one heck of a lot of fun on the gravel. It's now added to the list of bikes I've ridden and wanted to take home with me...